Fire is one of the major causes of accidents that occur on board a ship. Ships carry bulk amounts of combustible cargo, flammable substances like oil and petrol in addition to other igneous machines for trade.
Which is why it is necessary for these ships to be equipped with the required appliances to control the spread of fires before they become unmanageable. In cases of fire emergencies, it is also imperative to check if all the ships meet the necessary safety standards and are equipped with important fire-fighting appliances.
Some of the most commonly used fire-fighting appliances that need to be on board a ship are fire dampers, fire pumps, fire hydrants, fire redundant bulkheads, fire hose and nozzles, and most importantly portable fire extinguishers.
This equipment helps in bringing under control the fire onboard a ship during a catastrophic accident. In addition to that, each ship must have a fully functioning and upgraded fire detection and alarm system installed.
But the first question we need to ask is, how does fire even occur on board a ship? The answer is simple. Fires on ships are a result of negligence. Let us now take a look at a few most common causes of negligence that cause fires.
Common Causes of Negligence Resulting in Fires on Ships
Malfunction in Machinery
Fires on ships occur mainly due to the abundance of complex and heavy machinery. Boiler rooms on ships house some of the most intricate machinery in compact quarters as well as fuel pipes required to run the machinery.
In such cases, a fire can be caused simply due to a malfunction in the machinery or a leak in one of the several fuel pipes in the area. Leaking fuel accumulated in one place or exhaust gases can also contribute to instant onboard fires.
Lack of Training in the Crew
In order to combust, fires require air, heat, and fuel. Combined with negligence on the maintenance crew’s part, it is quite easy for any fire to get out of hand. Hence, it is necessary for the ship’s crew to have the proper training to deal with unforeseen fire breakout.
Flammable items must also not be discarded onboard a ship. Ship fires typically occur in the boiler rooms, engine room and due to electrical malfunctions in addition to lack of proper maintenance.
Outdated Fire-fighting Equipment
Fire-fighting equipment, like a fire extinguisher, essentially does not have an expiry date. But it most certainly loses its functionality with time. Fire safety blankets also tend to deteriorate with time even if there is no certain expiry date.
Using outdated appliances can cause the fire to get even worse and can cause additional damage to life and property. It is therefore important to keep all the fire fighting equipment on board ships updated and maintained.
Seeing that lack of effective safety equipment in top working condition can cause immense damage to life and property on ships, it is imperative that it be serviced or replaced at regular intervals.
Servicing and Maintaining Fire-fighting Appliances
Fire is a result of spontaneous combustion and hence it is necessary for all the fire-fighting appliances and systems to work in the blink of an eye, in case of an emergency. To ensure this, it is important that the fire-fighting appliances and systems are serviced regularly.
Some of the steps for the same are as follows:
Make Equipment Available for Use at a Moment’s Notice
All the fire fighting equipment and systems must be in good condition and available for immediate use in case of a fire. If a fire fighting system onboard a ship is going through inspection or upgrade, then suitable measures must be taken to ensure that an alternate system is put into place.
Have an Inspection and Maintenance Plan in Ships
The ship must have a maintenance plan in place according to which maintenance and inspection of fire fighting equipment must be carried out. These inspections should be carried out by trained personnel adhering to the proper guidelines and the record must be available onboard.
Inspections at Periodic Intervals
Inspections must be carried out as required on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, two-year, five-year and ten-year basis, according to the equipment and system use.
Maintenance and servicing of fire-fighting appliances are crucial in order to prevent malfunctions of these systems in case of a fire. Proper maintenance can help to protect the crew and the passengers as well as the cargo on the ship by minimizing the damage caused by the fire.
To help meet these safety standards and have a common frame of reference for seafarers, the SOLAS treaty has defined specific requirements for fire-fighting appliances.
SOLAS Requirements for Fire-fighting Equipment
- Smoke detectors must be installed in every cabin and service space.
- The minimum capacity of the powdered CO2 should be 5kg and it should not be placed near places of accommodation. The minimum capacity of foam is 9 liters.
- The maximum mass of a portable fire extinguisher should not exceed 23 kg and it should have a capacity of holding 9 liters of liquid extinguishers. Fire extinguishing measures must be taken in spaces that contain flammable liquids.
- Ships must have escape routes and enclosures that prevent the ingress of smoke in cases of fire. Stair tower arrangements and multiple stairways connecting several decks must be put in place.
- Extinguisher intended to be used in a space must be located near the entrance of the space.
- If insulating materials such as foam are used, the exposed surfaces of the foam must be sealed with a fireproof coating.
- The trunks and ducts of ventilation systems onboard the ships must strictly be made out of non-combustible materials.
- The fire fighting equipment and systems put in place on board a ship must be known and accessible to the crew and other people on board the ship. The appliances must be pre-approved to meet the requirements of the specified code.
- Every pressure container for every fire extinguishing system must bear a mark indicating the fact that it meets the requirements according to the code.
- The vessel should be fitted with two or more power-driven fire pumps with pressure gauges. In addition to that, fire hoses must be connected to fire hydrants at all times.
Procedures for the Testing of Fire-Fighting Appliances
The fire-fighting equipment should work efficiently in case of a fire. Therefore, the following procedures are vital for the smooth functioning of a fire fighting system.
1. Weekly Testing and Inspections:
- The fire detection and alarm systems, fire doors, low location lighting, and sprinkler systems should be functional and should be operated by lamp or indicator switch.
- The working of fixed gas fire-extinguishing systems must be verified by the correct positions of control and sectional valves.
- The breathing apparatus should be in the correct pressure range.
2. Monthly Testing and Inspections:
- Equipment like fire mains, pumps, hoses, nozzles, and fire hydrants should be properly arranged and be in good condition.
- Fixed gas fire extinguisher system and foam fire extinguishing systems should be closed and in proper position and their pressure gauges should be in the proper range and free from leakages.
- Firefighters outfits and the inventory must be well equipped and in good condition.
3. Quarterly Testing and Inspections:
- Ventilation systems and fire dampers should be tested.
- All dire doors should be located in the main vertical zone bulkheads.
4. Annual Testing and Inspections:
- Fire mains, fire pumps, hydrants, nozzles and hoses, fire detection and alarm systems must be visually inspected to be in proper condition.
- Water sprinkling systems should involve valve tests, freeze protection and emergency power supply.
- Ventilation systems and fire dampers must be tested for remote operations, else grease builds up.
- Remotely controlled fire doors should be tested for release.
5. Two-year Testing and Inspections:
- Fixed gas fire extinguisher systems should be weighed to confirm that the contents are above 95% of the nominal charge or containers must be refilled.
- Fixed dry chemical powder systems must be inspected by a service agent.
6. Five-year Testing and Inspections:
- Fixed gas fire extinguishing system, foam fire extinguishing systems and water sprinklers should be inspected for the functioning control valves.
- It should supply freshwater and that should be tested too.
- Breathing apparatus should be tested and replaced.
7. Ten-year Testing and Inspections:
- Fixed aerosol extinguishing systems must be tested and renewed in accordance with the manufacturer.
- Fixed dry chemical powder systems should be tested by an accredited service agent.
It is thus necessary for fire protection systems to be serviced and examined as part of their maintenance from time to time. This has also been stated in the guidelines provided by IMO.
Fire-fighting appliance providers and repairers like SHM Shipcare provide fire-fighting appliance maintenance services that involve efficient testing and maintenance of the fire-fighting equipment.
Trained personnel, skilled at examining and servicing fire-fighting equipment perform an inspection of portable and non-portable fire extinguishers, breathing apparatus, foam applicators, compressor air quality test, and foam concentrate analysis.
Almost all fires on ships are caused due to negligence. It is hence important to take the necessary precautions and measures to ensure that no fire breaks out on a ship. It is also required to use the most efficient and upgraded equipment in case of a fire.
In order to do this, the fire-fighting equipment on board a ship should be regularly checked for its efficiency and usability. Thus, it is important to take the above-mentioned precautions and keep the fire-fighting appliances onboard a ship up to date.
At SHM Shipcare, our endeavour of creating safe seas and safe shores drives us to manufacture, service, and repair outdated fire-fighting equipment. What are your thoughts about fire-fighting safety equipment in shipping? Like to share an experience with us? Drop a comment to let us know!